BWW Retrospective: How PRINCE OF BROADWAY Finally Landed at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
With a slow beginning in 2012 and a successful run in Japan in 2015, the show finally opened on Broadway on August 24, 2017.
The largely autobiographical musical revue was set to open on Broadway in November 2012, but was plagued by funding problems. The show had been planning a Toronto premiere before moving to Broadway, and was set to star Broadway names such as LaChanze (THE COLOR PURPLE, IF/THEN), Linda Lavin (BROADWAY BOUND), and Shuler Hensley (OKLAHOMA!). Sierra Boggess (THE LITTLE MERMAID, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA) and Emily Skinner (SIDESHOW) were also announced as part of the cast.
Originally, Dancap Productions was on board as the lead producer, but the company pulled out on Friday, April 27, as company president Aubrey Dan told The Toronto Star that he was "no longer moving forward" with the project. At the time, the musical was being developed and directed by Prince himself, with choreography by Susan Stroman and a book by David Thompson.
However, Dan was worried about the "uncertainty of obtaining the right theater and the difficulty of raising funds in a limited window."; he also believed that the out-of-town tryout in Toronto was cost-prohibitive. It was expected that the show would need about thirteen million dollars, a number that nobody seemed able to raise. However, show spokesperson Adam Byron-Brown announced on Saturday, April 28 that the show would continue without Dancap's involvement.
By March of 2013, it was made clear that PRINCE OF BROADWAY would not premiere as scheduled. On Friday, March 29, a spokesman for the producers officially announced that the production would not be presented in the fall, citing scheduling impossibilities, and saying that "it is not clear at this time when the production will move forward."
Later in the day, the spokesperson announced that there had been no changes to the production team.
"I've been working for about 27 years on the 'Prince of Broadway'," Long said. "And now I hear that it will be done very soon and very well in a land across the sea - who obviously know better than we do how to put on a good show."
Long was speaking of the production's newly-announced run in Japan, where it would open in 2015.
Throughout the year, other producers, such as PHANTOM OF THE OPERA's James B. Freydberg, expressed declined to invest in the project, citing a lack of audience interest. However, many of the producers who spoke out remained anonymous. Aubrey Dan, the producer who dropped out in 2012, also expressed a similar view, saying that investors had passed on concerns about the show to him before he left the project.
Veteran producer Roger Berlind also said that he believed a retrospective show just didn't have the material to be a success, saying that audiences wanted "something new," according to The New York Times.
Susan Stroman, the show's joint director and choreographer, expressed annoyance with those who did not support the project.
"I still can't get over the fact that at the last Tony Awards ceremony, 5,000 people leapt to their feet to give Hal a standing ovation, but none of them were willing to join us on 'Prince of Broadway,'" she said. "I just thought: 'What? What? All this love, but we can't raise the money?'"
However, during the aforementioned American Theatre Wing gala, Prince himself seemed undeterred by the problems plaguing the production.
"Everything's going very well with developing the show, and we'll have the financing, and we'll do four weeks in Tokyo and then open on Broadway in early 2016," he said, replying to a question he was asked while on the red carpet.
PRINCE OF BROADWAY finally had its world premiere at the Toyku Theatre Orb in Tokyo, Japan. Premiering on October 23, 2015, the production ran until November 22, presented by Umeda Arts Theatre Co., LTD.
Featuring the originally-cast Emily Skinner and Shuler Hensley, the Japan production also starred Ramin Karimloo (LES MISERABLES), Tony Yazbeck (ON THE TOWN), Nancy Opel (URINETOWN), Josh Grisetti (SOMETHING ROTTEN), Mariand Torres (SCHOOL OF ROCK "Off-Broadway"), Kaley Ann Voorhees (PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), and Bryonhda Marie Parham (THE GERSHWIN'S PORGY AND BESS). It also featured Japan natives Masachika Ichimura, who provides voiceover work for the production, and Reon Yuzucki.
The creative team included set designer Beowulf Boritt, costume designer William Ivey Long, lighting designer Sonoyo Nishikawa, Sound Designer Koichi Yamamoto, and wig designer Paul Huntley. Musical supervision and arrangements were done by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (PARADE, THE LAST FIVE YEARS), and Fred Lassen served as the musical director.
The show featured dozens of songs from shows that Prince was involved in, including WEST SIDE STORY's "Tonight," PHANTOM OF THE OPERA's "Music of the Night," and "Company" from COMPANY. The show also included songs from famous works such as FOLLIES, SHE LOVES ME, and CABARET, among others.
In a move that amused many, the show also featured a robotic Hal Prince, voiced by Ichimura, presenting narration between the featured songs.
The much-anticipated show received favorable reviews, and performed a second leg in Japan with the same cast and creative team in Osaka, Japan, in the Umeda Arts Theater's Main Hall from November 28 until December 10. According to Prince, the show was even better in Osaka, due to being performed in a smaller theatre.
The Japanese productions received generally positive reviews, paving the way for the show to finally arrive on Broadway. Boritt's sets were praised as "cleverly designed," remembering the sets of the shows that the songs were taken from; Long's costumes were reviewed as "ravishing." The performances were admired all-around, and it was seen as a production worthy of Prince's illustrious career.
In December 2016, it was announced that the show would finally advance to Broadway, presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club. Again, Prince was slated to direct, along with choreographer and joint director Susan Stroman and bookwriter David Thompson; Jason Robert Brown would again serve as music supervisoR. Brown also wrote an original song as the finale of the show.
By April 28, 2017, the entire cast of the production had been announced. Many members from the Japanese productions stayed on, such as Emily Skinner, Bryonha Marie Parham, Kaley Ann Voorhees, and Tony Yazbeck.
The show, running two and a half hours, including intermission, features narration by the cast members (apparently, robot Hal Prince was cut in the transfer, replaced by the actors doing the necessary narrating), and a slightly altered song list from what appeared in Japan. However, the show seems to be the same overall.
In addition to the new song written by Brown, he also provided new orchestrations for all of the songs featured in the revue.
Also unique about the show is that both Long and Boritt have created individual costumes and scene designs that evoke the essence of the each show featured in the revue, allowing the audience to truly enjoy the spectacle of the event, and catch a glimpse into how Prince's works originally looked.
The Manhattan Theatre Club's production of THE PRINCE OF BROADWAY is currently playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. The production is currently scheduled to end its limited run on October 22nd, 2017.